October 21, 2010

Study Finds Virtual Communication is Less Effective than Face-to-Face Methods

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Under certain business conditions, face-to-face encounters are a more successful means of communication than virtual communications when used in large group settings, a new study by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research finds.

Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Company, and Mary Beth McEuen, vice president and executive director of the Maritz Institute, wrote the study, which was released in September as a part of the CHR’s Industry Perspectives series.

Due to the economic climate over the past several years, virtual means of business interactions involving large virtual meetings through video conference, mass calls across different offices –– and often from different countries –– have become more common at the expense of face-to-face communication, which in many cases is more effective, the study says.

“Because of the economic downturn, those [face-to-face] meetings were the ones to get cut,” Duffy said.

The study found that many top business executives have come to believe that virtual communication should replace face-to-face interaction due to its efficiency, low cost and ease of use, but in reality it is far less effective.

According to the authors, “discussions surfaced that were based on the idea that virtual communication could replace face-to-face interaction.”

The research conducted presents an analysis that will aid in “determining when an investment in large-group face-to-face meetings and events will have the greatest impact.”

The CHR study cited a 2009 survey involving 760 business executives conducted by Forbes Insights, which inquired on their opinions of face-to-face and virtual forms of communication.

According to the survey, a majority of executives preferred face-to-face communication, even though there was a rising preference for virtual means of interaction. Reasons for executives to choose face-to-face communication varied from the ability to read the body language and facial expressions, to developing an enhanced bond between them and their coworkers.

Duffy and McEuen said there are three conditions under which face-to-face communication is considered more advantageous in larger group meeting settings.

The study stated that when one is trying to capture attention inspired by positive emotional climates, face-to-face interactions benefits building human networks and relationships the most.

In trying to capture the attention of co-workers, the study found that the idea of “switch-tasking,” or “the brain [being] forced to toggle back and forth between tasks”, is considered on of the reasons that virtual communication may not be as efficient as communicating face-to-face.

Often misunderstood as “multi-tasking,” “switch-tasking” leads to the loss of valuable time and resources. Face-to-face communication would dispel this notion of “switch-tasking” during in person meetings.

The study also found that conveying a positive emotional message to a large group is best achieved face-to-face. One of the research cited in the study described the idea of emotional contagion, which states that humans are inclined to experience emotions expressed by others.

In addition, the study stated that communication taking place in person should be considered a superior medium in conveying a message that relies on exchanging an emotion-charged message to a large group. When attempting to build stronger relationships between coworkers, the use of face-to-face communication is deemed to achieve better results than virtual business communication.

Business networks and relationships are better served through communication conducted in person, due to the opportunity that individuals are given to create better “quality” relationships with their coworkers.

While the study focused on the effect of face-to-face communication in large group settings, Duffy adds, “the benefit of in-person interaction doesn’t stop there. It applies to business situations where people are trying to connect.”

Original Author: Hermela Nadew